Saturday, March 31, 2007

Pregnant mare on a webcam? Seems foalish to me

A story in the Chronicle tells us you can join the thousands of people who are raptly watching a pregnant horse on a webcam. The mare is in Petaluma, and is due any minute now, so you can link to it (quick before you miss it!) although it requires a plug in to see what's happening. But after you install the plug in you can go to (I kid you not) and look at all kinds of horses, donkeys, alpacas, lemurs and orangutans all over the world on webcams. Well, I didn't actually see any lemurs or orangutans on, but I think if I keep watching enough webcams, some lemurs or orangutans might eventually show up.

Now before you think this is some kind of sick weirdness, it appears that people who own or manage a lot of horses are using the webcams in stables to monitor multiple animals. Has this idea replaced the baby monitor yet?

What IS weird is that this newspaper story will send a bunch of goofballs (like me) to rush off to their computers to look at the pregnant horse. "Oh goodness, there's a pregnant horse on a webcam. I never realized how much I've always wanted to see that on my computer." Likewise, a Chronicle story earlier this week told us about the guy who has attached a webcam to his forehead.

Using technology his team developed, (Justin) Kan has strapped a camera to his head to capture every moment of his existence in live streaming video on the Internet. Viewers literally see the world through Kan's virtual eyes, which broadcast his life onto the Web 24/7. He interacts with his audience through 21 chat rooms and hundreds of e-mails each day.

You can view all this excitement at I just popped over there and watched this Justin guy sleeping. That was great.

Moral of our story: Once again, I am filled with happy joy that my man Al Gore invented to the internet so that I can, at last, watch pregnant horses and some random guy sleeping, and have a way to tell YOU about it.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Exciting New Breakthrough on Weight Loss! Magic Formula Found! Ounces melt away!

Like the majority of Americans, I am overweight, and that's been the story for most of my life. I've never been over 225, but since I probably ought to come in at 190 max, that's overweight by quite a bit. I have always been conscious of it, too, from the day Mel Campbell punched me in the gut and called me fatty. We were about 5 years old when this disturbing incident occured out by the raspberry bush in the sideyard. My snappy comeback was "I'd rather be fat than skinny like you," which, of course, was a lie.

As I've gotten older and my metabolism has slowed, stopped, and gone into reverse, the ability to drop 10 pounds in no time has disappeared. So you can imagine my delight in discovering the secret to weight loss. Ready? Here it is:

  • Stop eating and drinking 75% of the things you normally eat and drink.

Yes, it's that simple! My spousal unit and I have been on what is called the "Daniel Fast," which is not really a fast since you are eating plenty of food, and since I have not explored the spiritual side, I am not clear on the Daniel part, but you can Google it and get all the details. In a nutshell, for 21 days you stop eating white flour, white rice, sugar, all meat, anything fried or high fat, and stop drinking alcohol. No caffeine, either. I know, what's left to eat? What's the point in living without all the good stuff? All I know is we have both lost a little weight in the last 10 days, and without any exercise since we've both had a cold/flu/hoof-and-mouth thing the whole time. If we were going to the gym and eating this way, the results would be more rapid for sure.

So there you have it. Go nuts with the fruits, vegetables and - nuts. Potatoes ok. Brown rice and beans, but no pasta, ok? Oatmeal. Salad. Drink water. If you don't feel better in several ways after 10 days, I'll give you double your money back.

Could I keep it up every day forever? Doubtful. But if I ate these 25% of things 75% of the time, and ate the other 75% of things 25% of the time, I could eventually be as trim as Mel Campbell.
Maybe now I can make some progress on getting back to my original weight - 8 lbs. 9 oz.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Big melon research, day 2

We have a breakthrough. Thanks to the all-encompassing memory banks of Bryce (see the comment on the 3/28 post) we now have a reference point. For those who did not read the 3/28 post, and have a strained index finger and can't scroll down, I have been looking for the basis of the belief I hold that people with unusually large heads are more successful in on-screen roles on TV and in movies. It's one of those "I know I heard it somewhere" things. So here's our definitive citation:

Well y’know, that’s why Merv Griffin hired Vanna White — her head is too big for her body. Apparently big-headed people are thought to “read well” on TV.

And yes, that is the only qualification to be a TV “journalist.

This is attributed to a person using the name "Cervantes" commenting on a blog here. (This blog also refers to Tony Snow and Brit Hume as examples of the big head phenomenon, and along with some crude language and general meanness, uses the term megacephalic, which may be useful going forward.) For those who don't think a single, anonymous blog comment qualifies as solid sourcing (what's the weather like back there in 2003?) I have something even better:

Overheard on the recent E! True Hollywood Story, Vanna White: Merv Griffin believes that people with slightly larger heads tend to be more successful. The game show creator says it was one reason he originally chose Vanna over a smaller-headed letter-turning competitor.

Attribution to E! should be enough for even the most skeptical, so we'll just stamp "fact" on this one.

So now we know - if you want to succeed in TV but you're not an idol, ballroom dancer, castaway or ex-jock, take a good hard look in the mirror as say, "Is my head - and I mean this literally, not figuratively - really big enough?" And after that, better stop talking to yourself in the mirror, that might be misinterpreted.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The camera loves a big melon, si?

Question: Successful film and TV actors have abnormally large heads. True or False.

Today I appeal to you, the Barry's Blog readers, to address this pressing question. I can't remember where it first came up, but somewhere sometime someone said that it is a fact that the people whose heads are disproportionately large are more successful in the movies and TV. Something to do with how the camera, like the sitting President, conveys data that is not exactly reality, but an interpretation of it. This accounts for the old saying that "the camera adds 15 pounds." Try as I might, I cannot find any references to this "big heads = success on camera" concept, even searching my old favorite Snopes - and amazingly the query stumps Google. I thought Google knew everything. Maybe I'm just not looking in the right places. Or maybe YOU have the knowledge I seek.

Recent examples of the ginormous cranium on TV include Giada Delaurentiis from the Food Network, and I believe Matthew Perry fits - or rather exceeds - the mold as well. In the photos here, you can see how the these stars struggle to hold their massive noggins in a normal upright position. It's sad, really.

So please, dear readers, do what you can to help me prove that this theory is indeed correct. Sources, citations, and additional examples are needed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Restaurants terrorized by the blogosphere?

The Chronicle gave the Sunday front page above the fold to a story on how foodie bloggers are impacting restaurants with their reviews. If I were a restaurant owner or a chef, this trend would give me the willies.

Here's why. I took a look at as a test. There are pages on pages of restaurants listed and all the places have a 1 to 5 star rating. If you're looking at San Francisco, you will see many places that have 30 to 100 reviews posted. I would place some value on the collective rating of 30 people, whether we were talking about food, a movie, or a website, so if one of those places has 4 stars, I imagine it must be good.

On the other hand, search for Napa and you find another long list of eateries, and they all have their star ratings. The difference is, many of them have been given this rating based on 3 reviews - some have only 2 reviews. Therein lies the rub. Imagine pouring your heart and soul into a restaurant and having your fortunes shaped by 3 anonymous people? Shouldn't they have some kind of minimum number of reviewers weighing in before a star rating is generated?

I'm happy to report that most of my favorite downtown Napa spots fare well on this site, however. More on that topic on another day.

Monday, March 26, 2007

You've got to be kidding me #237

It never ceases to amaze me that California, with 35 million people, the world's fifth largest economy, a magnet for some of the most innovative people in the world, produces such a meager crop of politicians. In the last 50 years, the state has produced a total of two pols of national stature, Nixon and Reagan. You'd think that the Governor of California, whoever he or she is, would be a viable candidate for President in every election with a headstart of 55 electoral votes. But instead, we've had your George Deukmejian, (wow!) your not-the-TV-news-guy Pete Wilson, (ooh...aaah) your Gray Davis (sensational!) and now Schwarzenegger (who at least has some ideas and some personality, if he could just figure out what he stands for. )

All of this comes to the forefront with the Matier and Ross item from the Chronicle reporting that polls have Jerry Brown as the front runner for the Dems in the next Governor's race. (All together now - you've got to be kidding me!) The best we can do in the greate state of California, land of fruits and nuts, is the second coming of Jerry Brown? This is the guy who was so short-sighted as to believe, 30 years ago, that California was essentially "full" and that population growth had levelled off. That belief led him to shut down infrastructure improvements during his governorship, as recounted by Dan Walter in the Sacramento Bee, 1/17/06:
Jerry Brown became governor and decided to end the massive highway construction that previous governors, including his father, Pat Brown, had fostered.

California politicians have made many boneheaded decisions, but Brown's decree - driven by Earth Day ideology, rebellion against his father and an erroneous belief that population growth was abating - has to be one of the worst. Thirty years of heavy highway construction have been followed by 30 years of little expansion of the state's once-vaunted roadway network.

Brown created a backlog of road improvements, and we are still trying to catch up. Think about that the next time you're sitting in a jam, and join me in wondering where is the real political leadership in this state? Where is the candidate with a vision?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

When bad movies happen to good people

So I'm flipping channels a few days back and The Born Losers is on, so I cannot resist watching a bit of that. For those who have not had the pleasure - no, pleasure is not the word....hmmm, let's say the experience of viewing this 1967 film, here are a couple of the tag lines from IMDB:


An innocent girl is first prize in the dirtiest game ever played!

Kitten on wheels, with her bike, her boots and her bikini!

So you get the idea. However, the reason I flipped to it in the first place is that this is a Tom Laughlin movie, he who would be Billy Jack. Now Billy Jack may be, by traditional standards, the most technically pathetic yet commercially successful movie ever made. Little considerations like the quality of cinematography, sound, editing, and acting did not deter Tom Laughlin from making a movie. Billy Jack has a special place in my mind because (a) the character was really cool to my 12 year old self, and (b) I got to see the movie even though it had some weird and raunchy stuff in it, and (c) it ran for something like 2 years non-stop in the Lux Theater in my hometown of Joplin, Missouri. (The Lux was infamous for the rumor that rats would run over the tops of your feet if you kept them on the floor.) In the modern day when a new movie, even a hit, will stay in theaters for maybe 3 weeks, a 2 year run is insane. Needless to say, Billy Jack struck a chord with the middle American audience.

But back to The Born Losers. As I'm gaping at the bad acting and the porno quality of the storytelling, there is a scene in which these two hairy bad-guy bikers, the characters "Biker" (that was creative) and "Krabs" share a big juicy wet kiss on the mouth. (IMDB Message board discussion on this topic is here.) This kissing scene is so out of left field, I couldn't believe it really happened and had to rewind. Yep, sure enough. Right on the mouth.

So it took me awhile to digest it, but I guess Tom Laughlin was trying to establish that the outlaw bikers were not just bullies, thieves, vandals, rapists, extortionists, and above all, un-American, but to top it all off, they were gay.

In summary, they don't make really bad movies like they used to. All of that energetic talentlessness is now funnelled into YouTube. But take heart! Read here about Tom Laughlin's possible masterwork in the making. This one I gotta see...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Wini, Widi, Wiki

When I was a kid, my mom sold the World Book Encyclopedia. I don't know how many years she did it, but long enough to earn a set for our house, which I'm sure was her primary objective. While the older set of (no doubt hand-me-down) Encyclopedia Brittanica remained mostly untouched, I spent a lot of time with the World Book. I remember being both fascinated and repulsed by the plastic-sheet overlays depicting the systems of the human body, a frequenter of all the articles on the moon and space travel (we were nationally obsessed with the moon in those days) and often inclined to just pick out a volume at random and start reading (or, more likely, looking at the pictures.) As my mom had hoped, I loved the World Book.

Logically, I now have a deep and abiding relationship with Wikipedia. (If you need to get up to speed, read the "About" page, or read the article on the topic of Wikipedia in the Wikipedia.) Wikipedia is everything the web is supposed to be, and I thank God for Al Gore and his invention of the Internet! I know some people bash Wikipedia. (Funny take on it from Wired here.) "Anybody can say anything in those articles! How can you believe what you're reading?," they say. Consider, however, that it is not anybody doing the writing, but it is everybody doing the writing. If you contribute something goofy, it won't last an hour. Granted, there have been some high profile smears perpetrated - but to suggest this only occurs in the shape-shifting web world is silly. Most of the first class smearing is done on the printed page, and there's no counterpoint, no rapid-fire editing, to remove those black marks on your permanent record. And consider also, that back in the day of the Brittanica and World Book dead tree versions, a writer's agenda-laden article could get published as fact and influence the perceptions of entire generations.

As a example of its colossal usefulness, here's a list of my most recent Wikipedia searches, all of which yielded a fact-filled result in nanoseconds:
  • Harpy
  • Prometheus
  • Hannibal
  • Billy Joe Hargis
  • Battle of Thermopylae
  • Malthus
  • Neosho
  • Polio
  • Population bomb
  • PS2
  • Scion (the car)
  • Sparta
  • Viet Nam
  • Wells Fargo
These are just searches at home, maybe 15% of my computer time, over the last 2 months or so. While I'm sure World Book would have done a fine job with "polio" or "Sparta", I'm not so sure it would have been helpful with "Scion (the car)" or "Neosho" (which is an Indian word but I was looking for the small town in southwest Missouri. Oh, want to know more? Here's the link to Neosho on Wikipedia. Enjoy.)

Moral(s) of the story:
a. Wikepedia is everything World Book wanted to be
b. I would not want to be a door-to-door encylopedia salesman today.
c. Those plastic sheet overlays of the human body are still way cool.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Friday Odds and Ends

Appropos of nothing, here are two photographs with stories behind them.

I took photo 1 from the top of the Clay Street parking gargage in downtown Napa. It's a good spot for viewing construction on a couple of current downtown projects. When I looked straight down, I saw this old TV that had obviously been dropped from the spot where I was standing. Shades of the old Letterman show. I imagine the spectacle was diminished by the fact that the tube did not explode.
Photo 2 is from our front yard. These blooms are from tulip bulbs we brought back from Amsterdam in 2003. Every year so far it was all foliage and no flower, but this year we get the blooms. I'm sending this photo to Al Gore as more proof of global warming.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

If I call him a bloviating pedant, does that sound harsh?

Kind of hard to imagine that Al Gore is not running for President, especially after yesterday's global warming show he provided for the Congress. And also hard to imagine that he could really get the nomination. I know he's riding a wave with the Oscar and all, but he has become such a preachy blowhard I can't see middle America getting on a Gore bandwagon. I can't get past the idea that he is using the green theme to remake himself, and at the bottom line it's all about Al Gore and getting elected. Lest we forget, this is a guy who couldn't carry his homestate in 2000 - is he more popular there now that he has cozied up with the granola wing of the party?

One thing we know for sure - Al plays fast and loose with the facts in his movie. In this piece from NPR, it's noted that Al's "20 foot rise in sea level" theory is not supportable, and the tying together of global warming and Hurricane Katrina is not something a reputable scientist will do. Al, after all, is a lawyer and a politician, and I have heard it said that persons in these professions may bend the facts to suit their cause.

So the next step is to ponder how it shakes out if Al does enter the Dem race - and to imagine what kind of You Tube videos we'll see then. Stay tuned, it's just starting to get interesting.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Today's Top Headlines Explained

Apple 1984 ad mashup markets Barack Obama, not Macs

This headline means: Hilary Clinton is clean and articulate, but she will have a devil of time getting the Democratic nomination.

Forever stamp will absorb rate hikes

This headline means: The name of the stamp describes the amount of time US Mail takes to reach its destination. That one was too easy.

Human Skull, Bones Found in Chicago Golf Club Fairway

This headline means: You're playing the round of your life, totally in a groove, and you come up on a foursome of doofusses playing slow. At first you try to keep your patience, but soon you realize the delay has broken your rhythm and your great score is ballooning. When one of the slow-playing nimrods stops in the middle of the fairway to answer his cell phone, you kill him with your 3-iron, a club you don't use that much so a little bend in the shaft is not a major problem, and hastily bury him in a large divot. It's the kind of thing that happens to all of us now and then. Just part of the game.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Are things going very badly or is it even worse than that?

It perplexes me that so many people choose to go in living in such a dreadful world. In that world of their own creation, we are about to wipe ourselves out with greenhouse gasses, genetically engineered food, or cell phone radiation - or we are about to become victims of bird flu, flesh eating bacteria, or something that has become antibiotic resistant. In the dreadful world, teenagers are illiterate and drugged-up, aliens are either over-running the borders all day or probing us at night, depending on which type of alien one fears the most, and the old folks are sucking up all the Social Security money. And let's not forget to worry about the imminent collapse of the currency due to our lack of a true gold standard, the impending doom to come when the Chinese bail out of the bond market, and, most important for us Californians, the inevitable housing market crash. In a nutshell, we're all going straight to hell in a handbasket (made in Sri Lanka and purchased from the evil trolls at Wal Mart.)

If you choose to live in the other world, where it's okay to believe that life today may actually be pretty good, all things considered, and we all really have a lot to be thankful for, you might find your Monday brightened by results of two recent polls.

First, the eye-opening poll from the Times of London that tells us, despite what we're thinking here, just 27% of Iraqis think their country in in a civil war. This poll also reports that people there think they are better off rid of Saddam Hussein - even half of the minority Sunnis agree with that. Hmmmmm.

Second, an anti-gloom perspective on how we feel about the economy. Even with gas over $3 a gallon again, things just aren't that bad.

For those in the Eeyore camp, I'm sorry, I hate to be the bearer of good tidings...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Three astounding secrets revealed, and memories of Maid Rites

Last night we had burgers from In-N-Out and I had my first experience with fries "animal style." For those who do not feel they have quite enough plaque in their arteries, this treat comes highly recommended. (It reminded me of a dish called the "Magic Mountain" that I savored in a diner in Bettendorf, Iowa, many, many years ago, although in those parts they like to add the "Maid Rite" loose meat to everything.) For those who are not acquainted with the many In-N-Out options that do not appear on their deceptively simple menu, here is a list of all that is revealed when we lift the veil the separates the seen from the unseen world. Sarah tells me it is some kind of Napa rite of passage to order a "9 by 9."

Delving more deeping into the mystical, here is a list of shortcuts you can use to conjure up an actual living human being from the depths of voice mail hell. If you've ever tried just pressing zero, you may have learned that not all companies want to make it that simple for you. This list, and the tips page, are handy. You're welcome.

For those who seek to do their duties as Americans and consume mass quantities of goods, here is an interesting article containing links to this site and this site, which promise to save you so much money you can't afford not to spend yourself into oblivion. Unlike fries animal style, I have no personal experience with these, but it seems worth a look.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Just say "tar baby" and you are stuck to one

Has political correctness run amok? Well, sure. Some people have taken a fundamentally positive idea - the golden rule? - and turned it into a monster. Got to watch every word you say, dumb down your language and take all the spice out of it, and God forbid you should tell a joke. All the same, I try to be sensitive to what other people may not want to hear or see. I don't have a right to inflict what I think is funny or clever on anyone who doesn't want to be the inflictee.

That said, a pet peeve today, in another case of the phrase "tar baby" being pointed to as some kind of racial slur. This time it's John McCain who used the term. The topic was parental rights in custody cases. There was no racial connotation to his remarks. Not long ago, Mitt Romney and Tony Snow got chastised for using this term.

It is well described here that the "tar baby" in the Uncle Remus stories was not racially weighted at all. Since the Remus stories were of and from the black culture, it's not illogical that a model of a baby made from tar would resemble a black baby, which would not be a surprising sight for Brer Rabbit to see along the trail. It works for the story. If this was a story from white folklore, maybe it would have been a marshmallow baby - you attack it and you get stuck to it being the key function here. If that had been the case, would we then consider the term "marshmallow baby" to be a slur on whites?

There is plenty of genuine, intended racial stereotyping in the world. It perturbs me when people force racial insult connotations onto words that don't deserve them. McCain is, of course, forced to apologize all over the place for he has used a PC forbidden term - even though people are forbidding it for the wrong reasons.

Friday, March 16, 2007

300 reasons to see it twice

Here's one from the you-gotta-be-kidding-me files: Iran's Cultural Minister is protesting the movie 300, while one of the Iranian newspapers says Hollywood has "declared war on Iranians."
(Little do they know Hollywood only protests wars, it doesn't declare them.) The problem is that they think the movie makes Iranians looks bad. Of course, there are no Iranians depicted in the movie, just Persians, who are the ancestors of some modern day Iranians. Ironically, the vast majority of Americans going to see this film would never have made the connection between Iran and Persia if it hadn't been pointed out, since the day that was covered in World History we skipped class to go see a movie.

I haven't seen the movie yet, although I've been looking forward to it for weeks. I read Gates of Fire recently, which is an excellent telling of the Thermopylae story, and even though I'm not into the gaphic novels, I liked Sin City, another Frank Miller creation made for the screen. I have seen the trailer, though, and I guess there are a couple of monster-like Persians, including one who looks like a cross between Jabba the Hutt and Barry Bonds at the peak of the 'roids, so I can see why Iranians might be offended. Nobody wants their ancestors portrayed looking like Barry Bonds on 'roids. But they sure don't look like Iranians in the movie to me, because none of them is wearing a Members Only jacket.

The irony, of course, is that the graphic novel 300 first came out in 1998. So I guess Frank Miller has been involved in a decade-long crusade (ooops, there's that word again) to insult Iran? Lordy, us Americans are a crafty bunch, aren't we?

Thursday, March 15, 2007


It has been a little like Christmas this week - the end of a long wait, after a prolonged period of growing anticipation as the circled day on the calendar drew closer. There was no stack of wrapped packages, and none required. All we wanted was Nate's return from Iraq.

I am made aware this week of all that I take for granted. I knew from our phone calls that he was putting in long hours. I did not know that he and his buddies were on duty every day of their 7 month deployment, working 10, 12, 18 hours - that they spent every single day in their "work clothes" with no furlough, no R&R, sleeping with the rifle next to the bed every night. And then the convoys, traveling through places with names like "IED Alley," as shown in this photo.

And so I am thankful that Nate is home, but today tens of thousands of other young men and women will spend another 18-hour day in their work clothes, eating sand, getting shot at, and missing home. I'm thankful for them. So much of all that I take for granted is the result of the sacrifices made by these people, and the generations that came before. I'll try to keep this in mind the next time I think I have something to complain about.

Monday, March 12, 2007

You have lots of time to think when you're driving

I'm driving on the 405 yesterday and as I'm passing LAX a plane slides over my head so close I thought I felt the jet wash. A million other cars are an inch from me and we're all doing 80 and our cell phones are chiming and I'm listening to the radio news reporter describing a fire in the Anaheim Hills. A minute later the road curves and there's the smoke plume and it's billowing and I know there are hundreds of people evacuating and hundreds more fighting the fire. The lady on the radio is talking about freezing river rocks to cool your single malt scotch and how most of our coffee beans are over-roasted. In the time it takes me to drive a few miles on this particular highway I know some thousands of people have flown into or out of that airport I just passed. And I know that my son is in the air somewhere, too, somewhere between Kuwait and Germany maybe. I believe that he will be home the next day and we will see him again after the seven longest months in our lives, and I am full of joy but afraid to feel it.

Life is beautifully complex.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

They just don't get it

I know that the people who are putting up the white crosses on their lawns think they are doing the right thing. In their minds, they're protesting the war. The hillside of white crosses in Lafayette, California, makes a strong visual statement, and the people behind that think they are doing the right thing.

They just don't get it.

Doesn't seem to matter how many times they hear it, directly from parents who have lost their sons and daughters over there, that using these mock grave markers is an insult to the memory of those killed in action. That those who have died were serving voluntarily - not draftees like in Vietnam. That maybe they didn't really want to be there, maybe in some cases they disagreed with the war - but they were doing their duty with honor. Voluntarily.

They just don't get it.

When you plant that white cross, you are casting those killed in service as victims. These honored dead are not victims.

They just don't get it.

It's the same mentality that believes that anyone who enlists in the service must have been duped, must be a loser, must have had limited options, chose the military over going to jail. It's a mentality that is so extremely self-centered that it cannot imagine why someone would willingly and even eagerly enlist, accept the risk, and put service above self.

They just don't get it.

It's been a facile position to say "I don't support the war but I support the troops." That is the biggest lie of our day. It's easily said, and most who say it don't really believe it. It is a PR statement, a recognition that we all bear a collective guilt for the way troops returning from Vietnam were treated.

So protest the war, protest against the White House and Bush, protest American imperialism - but leave the honored dead out of your campaign. If they were alive they would tell you the same.

Get it?

Friday, March 9, 2007

For better or worse, richer or poorer?

Here in northern California, as in much of the country, we are married to our illegal immigrants. Not necessarily in the going-to-the-chapel sense, but we are in a committed relationship. Just the same, we are married to sewing machine operators and call-center tech support in India, steel makers in China, and soccer ball stitchers in Pakistan. Our high standard of living and the low cost we pay for goods and services is built upon cheap labor.

Immigration rhetoric is meeting reality in Colorado these days. After passing strict laws on illegal immigration there, a shortage of farmworkers has led to a proposal to use labor from the prisons to pick the crops. Maybe there is some truth to the "this is work no one else wants to do" line of thinking? California has the largest ag economy in the country. We rely on the immigrant workforce. Fortunately, we also have one of the largest prison populations in the country, too, so if the anti-immigrant camp gets the crackdown they're crying for, at least we have reserves. But will it be long before someone is filing suit to block the use of prison labor? We're playing for big stakes here, people...

Interesting to note from the new edition of Atlantic in an article titled "The Mexican Connection," the money that is earned in the US and sent back to Mexico totalled some $20 billion annually as of 2003. That means the "20 million Mexican origin workers in American create a larger gross product than Mexico itself."

There are a lot of marriages that continue because both parties understand that splitting up will cost them financially as well as emotionally. Something for the anti-immigrant idealogues to keep in mind...

Thursday, March 8, 2007

I confess: I have questionable taste. What do you mean you already knew that?

I never got into South Park, or Beavis and Butthead, and I try hard but don't get many laughs from Family Guy - but to my credit, I am a major fan of Team America: World Police, everything by Sasha Baron Cohen, and I can trace my lineage as a fan to Steve Martin and Mel Brooks. So that says I like satire, and you can go so far over the top with something totally sophomoric and still be killing me on an intellectual level. And I will also admit that you can't make something that will offend me if it is funny at the same time. If you can make it work, there is no topic, language or style that will put me off. Case in point, The Aristocrats, in which the star of today's post delivered one of the most memorable renditions of the legendary joke.

All that said, I give me whole-hearted endorsement to the fore-mentioned star and her new show the Sarah Silverman Program. The season finale featured Sarah having sex with God. I think she's breaking new ground here. Wikipedia says her show has the "highest premiere ratings that a Comedy Central show has had in three years." (You can watch clips on the Comedy Central site, or buy episodes on itunes. That would be a well-spent $1.99.) It takes an episode or two, if you have not seen her before, to get into her thing. Then she owns you and can take you anywhere she wants. Equally recommended, the movie of her stand-up which is titled Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic.

Remember: nothing is truly offensive if it is also truly funny. A good laugh trumps indignation every time.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

When crack became tink

A few weeks ago I heard the first tink of the season. It came from the baseball field that's about one crisp relay from our front door. Probably a dad over there, pitching to a child, getting ready for tryouts, or just a kid version of spring training. The tink comes from the aluminum bats, and is a sound I can't hear without lamenting the demise of the real thing. One of the best reasons to go early for BP at a pro game is to hear the crack of the bat echoing through the mostly empty stands. There are few feelings that flow through your hands that are more pure than getting good wood on a fastball, and few that punish you more than getting one out on the end or right up on the handle. That luscious sound has been eliminated from the neighborhood, from the Little League park, and from the high school diamond, and replaced with the embarassing tink. And then there are the cheap hits that metal bats give like gifts, balls hit off the trademark that sing into the outfield instead of rolling weakly to the shortstop. This, my friends, is not progress.

But it's a beautiful thing, the blooming of a new baseball season. There's no amount of tinks, or steroid talk, or disappointment in overpaid underperformers that can dim the glow on the horizon that is the start of another season. Since ballplayers rarely stay with the same team for any length of time, I agree with Jerry Seinfeld that we're just "cheering for the clothes," but the game stirs something inside me all the same.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A postola on payola

A few days back I mentioned 95.7 FM in SF had switched to a country format, and was kicking it off by playing "10,000 songs in a row commercial free." The commercial free part is swell, but I guess I didn't realize they were going to play the same 100 songs a 100 times each. I should have guessed.

I've been reading Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media by Eric Klineberg, which explains a lot about why music radio has such tiny playlists. One explanation is simple-the big recording companies have been paying the big broadcasters for spins. What? You thought payola was outlawed in the 50s? Well, sure it was, and no one ever finds a loophole, do they? So today in the news, reports of a deal between the 4 big media conglomerates and the FCC to settle the latest payola scandal. And what a surprise! An insignificant fine, a token offer to play some non-corporate tunes (for a little while), and back to business as usual. With the huge amounts of commercials, the repetition of songs, and the on-air talent pool diluted by years of consolidations and voice-tracking, you have to wonder who's listening to traditional radio anymore.

Well, OK, I still am. But I'm not happy about it. The only morning show that's any fun these days is Armstrong and Getty on KNEW 910 AM. Case in point of why I like them: a few days ago when the "Jesus' tomb" story was in the news, Joe Getty said the way they knew it was really the bones of Jesus was that around the wrist there was a bracelet that said "What Would I Do?"...

Monday, March 5, 2007

Indians owned slaves? Did I sleep through that history lesson?

There's a story in the news about a vote in the Cherokee Nation to change their definition of citizenship, restricting it to descendants "by blood." The story goes on to say that this change will cut off the descendants of blacks whose ancestors were slaves to Cherokee owners. What? Wait a minute, what?? Indians owned slaves? Here you can learn much about what the Indian learned from the European settlers about keeping slaves, and how they adopted the practice. You think you know your history, then something like this pops up.

There's a new show coming out on the BBC that will represent the global-warming-is-caused-by-the-sun theory. Titled "The Great Global Warming Swindle," it it set to air March 8. It's directed by a guy named Martin Durkin, and he says
"It’s very rare that a film changes history, but I think this is a turning point and in five years the idea that the greenhouse effect is the main reason behind global warming will be seen as total bollocks."
For those who speak American rather than English, bollocks can be defined as "a general expression of dismay" and it refers to just what it sounds like it refers to.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Next up, MacCauley Culkin for President

Item 1: Any conspiracy nut worth their salt believes the Council on Foreign Relations is a nefarious organization that is secretly controlling the world. Never seemed all that secretive to me, seeing as how the conspiracy nuts could easily produce a list of all the people who were members. Secretive or not, looks like the CFR wants a little more sizzle, as Angelina Jolie is joining up.

As the newest member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Jolie will join other prestigious members such as Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Alan Greenspan among many others.
According to the Post report, the Council requires "no academic credentials but looks for members who take part in world affairs."
Speaking to the paper, Dr. Gordon Adams, an international-affairs professor, said "Bring her on...the idea of having Henry Kissinger and Angelina Jolie in the same organization is dazzling."
Former head of U.S. foreign-aid programs and current Council member Carol Adelman seconds the sentiment, saying,
"It's not like Paris Hilton is being nominated."

As goofy as that sounds, it is not from The Onion and I did not make it up, the source is here. They just don't make conspiracies like they used to, it's all gone Hollywood.

Item 2: In Wallingford, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, there is a store that sells dog stuff to rich people. You can buy a $2,500 dog sofa, or a $45,000 pair of dog earrings. Word is that some of the residents don't care for the name of the store - High Maintenance Bitch.

Item 3: In a tribute to the popularity of email, MySpace, IMing, texting, and whatever is next, and in response to my remark that I am more of an emailer than a talker on the phone, daughter Sarah has coined what may be her first notable catchphrase: "Typing is the new talking."

So I'll type to you later.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Grumpy old man complains about late newspaper

I am worried about the fate of the great institution of the daily newspaper. That worry becomes panic, outrage, and complete flemesifation when my delivery is late. (Sorry, I couldn't think of a word that described my feelings so I had to make one up.) Not only is the paper business up against this new-fangled internet thing, but it's also up against the tendency to consume information at a higher level than the local. As the world gets smaller, we live regionally. Lots of people today don't care what's happening in the neighborhood until something bad happens, like a sex offender moves in next door, or even worse, a subdivision gets approved.

So the daily newspaper isn't essential as it once was. I don't really need it at all. That is, until I don't have it. If I am up at 6, I can wait almost patiently until 7, but if that thing's not in the driveway at that point, God have mercy, my vengeance will not be assuaged. This, of course, is a learned behavior. My dear dad, who could work up a 200-horsepower purple rage over most anything, would be royally pissed if that Joplin Globe was not where it was supposed to be, when it was supposed to be.

Imagine my disdain then, this morning, when my San Francisco Chronicle was nowhere to be found at the day-is-half-over time of 8:15am. Granted, I had already read the news on several websites - that's not the point. This is the same Chronicle that was offered to me at the bargain price of $80 for 6 months, I believe, but when that offer was rejected, it was agreed a price of $20 for 6 months would be adequate. (I paid that, but now feel I could have kept bargaining and eventually they would be paying me to receive it.) This indicates that they themselves perceive a diminished value for their product, don't you think? And if people aren't buying it, and your readership is falling by double digits each year, and you want to keep selling advertising, then maybe you should make sure that you achieve timely delivery to the few remaining customers you have?

And if in fact that paper is not late, but has been thrown under the car in the driveway, as it was this morning, shouldn't the Chronicle have already developed some kind of tracking system, perhaps using microchips and GPS, to make sure I can locate it? Just a little technology could have spared everyone from all this drama this morning.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Radio games, Zodiac, and really big feet of clay

Since I can't drive without constantly changing the radio station, it's no surprise that I ran across 95.7 FM yesterday (3/1) broadcasting a countdown to a format change. They had a robotic voice doing a "T-minus 14 hours, 28 minutes" kind of thing, and having done some format flips before I knew right away what they were up to. So "Max FM" and the voice of Mr. Peterman is gone from Bay Area radio, and once we have all dried our tears we'll try to gather the pieces of our shattered lives. Today, you can hear "95.7 The Wolf" on that spot on the dial, which as you might guess, is a country format. They are kicking it off by playing 10,000 songs in a row without a commercial. After that they will play 10,000 commercials in a row without a song, or at least it will seem like it. It will be interesting to see if this version of a country station can survive here - undoubtedly the largest media market in the country where country stations are rare to extinct. I can't say I am a huge fan of what passes for country music these days, and prefer the old timey style, but at the same time I am sure I will tune in "The Wolf" (despite the mandatory stupid nickname - those nicknames seemed cool back in the 80s when the trend started but wouldn't it be brazen if some station just used their call letters for a change?) because everything else on commercial radio is far, far worse. I like a lot of the music on KFOG, but good God, I've heard all those songs eleventy-million times. At least the country station will play a few songs I haven't heard. Until they play them so often I am driven into some kind of psychosis.

Which brings us neatly to the Zodiac. Today is the opening of the new movie. I heard former Napa County Sheriff Ken Narlow on KNEW-AM yesterday, from LA where he is attending the premiere. It must be interesting to have an actor portray you in a movie - Narlow is played by Donal Logue - and I think the former sheriff has some kind of cameo in the film, too. The Napa Valley Register did a good piece on Ken and the Napa connections to the Zodiac case. Being a major scaredy-cat, I don't go for the spooky movies, but this one looks good. It's made by the director who made "Fight Club," which is a personal fave, and I haven't yet seen a movie with Jake Gyllenhaal (I had to look that up twice to spell it once) that wasn't worth the time. (Retraction: "Brokeback Mountain" was an exception to that statement.)

Lastly, I just hope all the haters are satisfied now that the sad news about Barry Bonds has come out. He is always the target of so much abuse, and now it turns out he has some kind of horrible disease. This was revealed in a new afterword added to the paperback release of the much talked about book Game of Shadows. Apparently Barry, who came into the Bigs wearing a size 10.5 shoe, is now wearing a size 13. His hat size has grown, too, even though he has less hair. Chest size has grown from 42 to 52, and unconfirmed reports tell us he showed up at spring training more than nine feet tall. This is clear (not cream) evidence that the poor guy has some kind of rare ailment - elephantiasis? Pedia-ginormity? Remember that Wallace and Gromit movie with the great big rabbit? Sounds like the same problem to me. Some of the haters want to blame the human growth hormone he is rumored to have taken, but that's just mean, casting aspersions on a guy who is suffering.

Play ball!